"Four and a half stars (G)
I realize that a number of you turned to this page, saw the word “Iraq,” rolled your eyes and thought, “Enough already. All I hear is people yapping about Iraq. The last thing I need is another documentary on the subject. Why couldn’t the feature review be The Astronaut Farmer? Or that Nicolas Cage movie where he rides around on a motorcycle with his head on fire?”
All I can say is stick with me, this is worth your time. James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments, a Best Documentary nominee playing at Key Cinemas on the Southside Friday, Saturday, Sunday and next Wednesday, is a movie about people — a rich, beautifully filmed, narration-free documentary about life in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, broken into three disparate segments.
The first, set in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, looks at the life of an 11-year-old auto mechanic named Mohammed Haithem. In the production notes (a good read at www.iraqinfragments.com/background/index.html), Longley states he selected the boy because he “had a sort of Dickensian quality that I thought perfectly matched the Best/Worst of Times feeling in post-war Baghdad. His face spoke for him; you could tell what he was thinking without him ever saying a word.” The kid fits the description. Though surrounded by cynicism and often mistreated by his boss at the garage, he remains boundlessly hopeful and enthusiastic.
The second section, set in the cities of Naseriyah and Najaf, follows a group of volatile Shiites. Where the first third of the film is sad and touching, this part is flat-out scary. I know nothing about the religious beliefs of the Shiites, but I can recognize militant fundamentalists when I see them. Watching them trample the rights of their neighbors — justified because “Iraq is a Muslim state!” — I was reminded of the religious extremists in our country pressuring lawmakers to dump the concept of majority rule tempered by minority rights and legally impose their harsh beliefs on everyone because “America is a Christian country!”
Longley wraps up his film poetically by visiting a family of Kurdish sheepherders in a small village out in the sticks. While politics are discussed, the focus is on a father/son relationship. The father is old and acutely aware of his mortality. He dreams of better times for his boy, hopefully in an independent Kurdistan. The son longs to attend medical school, but suspects he will end up herding sheep or cutting bricks at a local business. Some of the most haunting images in this remarkably well-photographed film are in this segment.
James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments gives us a chance to visit the country where the George W. Bush Administration made a war and meet some of its people. Longley does not pretend to offer a cross-section. He doesn’t pretend anything, come to think of it. After investing a great deal of time in Iraq, risking his life in the process, he shows us what he saw. How you respond to this excellent film may be affected by your opinions about the war, but trust me, you most certainly will think about it long after leaving the theater.
Editors note: Immediately following the 7 p.m. showing on Wednesday, Feb. 28, local scholar and senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research, John Clark, will lead a public discussion about the film and the United States’ role in Iraq.